Two-spirit Native Americans bridge genders on Columbus Day


Pretty much all Native American tribes traditionally recognized “two-spirit” folks of mixed gender. At times they played a spiritual function.  They seem as sacred figures in Native American rituals and myths. Two-spirit Native Americans are honored nowadays for Columbus Day, which commemorates the arrival of European explorer Christopher Columbus in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492.

Just before Columbus arrived, most Native American societies valued folks who mixed male and female roles or qualities.  Their languages had words for third and in some cases even fourth genders. “Two spirit” is 1 of the quite a few and varied Native American terms for option genders simply because 1 physique housed each feminine and masculine spirits. At times they served as spiritual guides who mediated in between the realms of physique and spirit, male and female. From a Western cultural viewpoint, the two-spirited folks have been observed as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or queer.

Modern artists have attempted to re-envision the freedom of two-spirit folks prior to the Europeans arrived. In the image above, Wisconsin artist Ryan Grant Lengthy contains an unknown Mayan couple enjoying a playful moment with each other in his series “Fairy Tales” series of similar-sex appreciate all through history. For far more information, see my short article Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Lengthy.

The earliest identified European depictions of Native Americans incorporate two-spirit folks. “Employments of the Hermaphrodites” is primarily based on a watercolor created by Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues though exploring Florida in the 1560s. It illustrates his report that two-spirit people’s duties incorporated caring for the sick and carrying the dead on stretchers.

Two-spirit folks have been not only accepted in quite a few Native American societies, but also seem as sacred figures in Native American sacred rituals and mythology. For instance the Zuni have a two-spirit god referred to as Ko’lhamana, and Hopi and Acoma-Laguna myths inform about a complete tribe of two-spirit folks referred to as the Storoka.

“Dance to the Berdache” by George Catlin (Wikipedia)

George Catlin, popular artist who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West, sketched the “Dance to the Berdache” in the 19th century though on the Terrific Plains with the Sac and Fox Nation. He depicted a ceremonial dance to celebrate the Berdache, a European term for two-spirit folks. But Catlin refused to give two-spirit folks a spot in his paintings of “traditional” Indian life.

Although Europeans have been mainly hostile to two-spirit folks amongst the Native Americans whom they converted to Christianity, a modern icon gives hope of reconciliation by displaying holy similar-sex appreciate with each Christian and Native American imagery. For instance, John Giuliani’s “Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” shows Jesus and his male beloved in the native dress of the Aymara Indians, descendants of the Incas who nonetheless reside in the Andean regions of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Giuliani is an Italian-American artist and Catholic priest who is identified for creating Christian icons with Native American symbols. He studied icon painting below a master in the Russian Orthodox style, but chose to expand the notion of holiness to incorporate Native Americans, the original inhabitants of the Americas.

“Warharmi and Madkwahomai” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring incorporated numerous two-spirit groupings in his “Legendary Really like: A Queer History Project.” In 1 sketch he portrays Warharmi, a “half-man, half-woman” and twins named Madkwahomai from the creaton myth of the Tipai tribe of the Kumeyaay folks in California’s Imperial Valley.

Buehring utilizes pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer folks and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project characteristics 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from quite a few cultures about the globe. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He performs in larger education administration as nicely as becoming a freelance illustrator primarily based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Executions for homosexuality have been prevalent in Europe for centuries, and Europeans quickly imported homophobic violence to the Americas. For instance, the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovered homosexuality amongst the Native American chiefs in 1594 at Quarqua in Panama. He ordered 40 of these two-spirited folks thrown to his war dogs to be torn apart and eaten alive to cease the “stinking abomination.”

Balboa executing two-spirit Native Americans for homosexuality in 1513 in Panama — engraving by Théodore De Bry, 1594 (Wikimedia Commons).  

In spite of the violence, some two-spirit people are nonetheless remembered in history and modern art. They incorporate We’wha of Zuni and the Lady Chief identified as Pine Leaf. Their portraits and stories are posted for Columbus Day on the Jesus in Really like Weblog.

We’wha of Zuni

We’wha was a two-spirit Native American Zuni who served as a cultural ambassador for her folks, which includes a stop by with a U.S. president in 1886. We’wha (pronounced WAY-wah) was the most popular “lhamana,” the Zuni term for a male-bodied particular person who lived in portion as a lady. Lhamanas chose to specialize in crafts rather of becoming warriors or hunters.

We’wha (1849-1896) was a skilled weaver and potter who helped Anglo-American scholars studying Zuni society. In 1886 We’wha traveled from her house in New Mexico to Washington DC, exactly where she met president Grover Cleveland. She was welcomed as a celebrity in the course of her six months in Washington. Everybody assumed that the six-foot-tall “Indian princess” was female.

The spiritual side of We’wha is emphasized in the above icon by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar identified for his revolutionary and LGBT-constructive icons. She is dressed for a religious ceremony as she prepares to place on the sacred mask of the man-lady spirit Kolhamana.

We’wha is the topic of the book “The Zuni Man-Lady” by gay anthropologist Will Roscoe. He also wrote “Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America” and “Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Similar-Sex Really like.” Roscoe’s web page gives sources in the Native American two-spirit tradition, third genders in the ancient globe, and research in early Christianity.

Jim Ru painted We’Wha with a dramatic blue background  His icon was incorporated in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.  He discusses it in a video.

“Biawacheeitche or Lady Chief aka Barcheeampe or Pine Leaf” by Ria Brodell

Pine Leaf or Lady Chief

“Woman Chief” is 1 of the names for the two-spirit tomboy born about 1800 to the Gros Ventre tribe. She was captured by the Crow nation when she was 10 and was so adept at hunting and warfare that she rose to come to be their chief.

Historical accounts say that she wore women’s clothing but had “all the style of a man and chief,” with “her guns, bows, lances, war horses, and even two or 3 young females as wives.”

“Pine Leaf, Indian Heroine” from “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth,” 1856 (Wikipedia)

She was killed in 1854 by the Gros Ventre tribe, but her story lived on in the common memoirs of a freed slave and fur trader named James Beckwourth. He referred to as her Pine Leaf simply because he refused his several marriage proposals by saying she would wed him “when the pine leaves turn yellow.” Later he figured out that pine leaves in no way turn yellow.

She is portrayed in the “Butch Heroes” series by genderqueer Boston artist Ria Brodell. For far more on Brodell’s perform, see my short article “Artist paints history’s butch heroes.”
Associated hyperlinks:

Two Spirit Individuals at the Legacy Stroll

Kent Monkman (Canadian artist of Cree ancestry whose perform has robust queer or gay male imagery dealing with sexuality and Christianity)

Top rated image credit: “Unknown Mayan Couple” by Ryan Grant Lengthy

This post is portion of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of unique interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer folks of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Really like Weblog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Icons of We’wha and quite a few other folks are out there on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and far more at Trinity Retailers


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